Laurel Canyon: A Lost Musical Wonderland

“Rising to some 866 feet among the Hollywood Hills west of Los Angeles.  At one time, a limitless landscape of enduring creative genius.”

Such is one description of southern California’s Laurel Canyon of the 1960s and 70s, a utopia for the rock and pop music community.

The absorbing two-part documentary from 2020, Laurel Canyon: A Place In Time, delivers exactly what the title indicates.  Geographically, Laurel Canyon is a place situated northwest of Hollywood in southern California.  There, from the mid-1960s straight into the heart of the ’70s, it was home to some of the all-time greats of popular and rock music: members of The Doors, Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, The Eagles, CSN&Y, Joni Mitchell, and on and on.

Like many things in the 60s, the community sprang up organically. It was close enough to the downtown L.A. music scene yet provided a welcome oasis from the city itself. Tiny, artsy bungalows (like the one immortalized in Graham Nash’s “Our House”) made a perfect setting for creating music or pretty much anything else. And so, flush with money from a new record deal or album, the young artists began buying or renting in this beautifully secluded area, becoming neighbors with their peers.

Perhaps the most surprising element of this film is the revelation that this supremely talented and trippily eclectic community was truly that: a tight-knit society of brothers and sisters united in the crafting of song.  Unlocked doors openly welcomed neighbors at all hours of the day and night.  Residents always felt free to come on in, have a beer, share a joint, and make some beautiful noise. Nash notes that hanging with David Crosby and Stephen Stills at an informal gathering was where their sublime harmony came together (and CSN was born). The air in Laurel Canyon wasn’t just filled with the smell of weed but of endless musical possibilities.

These gifted artists inspired each other. Genuinely and enthusiastically, they rooted for one another’s success.  And, perhaps most incredibly, they shared their wildly innovative creations with each other, not merely to have a listen, but as no-strings-attached gifts to record for themselves.  “You sound better doin’ it than I do, man.”

In many ways, the 60s and 70s scene in Laurel Canyon was akin to the literary salons of Paris in the 20s and 30s: just artists in it for the art.

Can you even begin to imagine this kind of camaraderie in today’s corporate music world?  A business busting at the seams with the calibration of most units sold?  Of calculating who tops the heap in concert tour revenue hauls?  Obsessed with quantifying social media followers and downloads? I think not.

Laurel Canyon: A Place In Time is a love letter to an era we’re not likely to experience again and a reminder of some pretty great music. It’s available on various streaming platforms including Netflix and Amazon Prime.

-John Smistad

Fair use image from Laurel Canyon: A Place In Time

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5 comments on “Laurel Canyon: A Lost Musical Wonderland

  1. Thanks for reminding me if this documentary. Watching it now. Very good!

  2. I’ve watched that doc probably 3 times now, it’s a fantastic glimpse into a beautiful, lost era.

  3. I’ve viewed this doc a few times. Truly amazing!
    Your comparison to Paris in the 20’s and 30’s was spot on.

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